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The Foreign Policy Disconnect

What Americans Want from Our Leaders but Don’t Get

With world affairs so troubled, what kind of foreign policy should the United States pursue? Benjamin Page and Marshall Bouton look for answers in a surprising place: among the American people. Drawing on a series of national surveys conducted between 1974 and 2004, Page and Bouton reveal that—contrary to conventional wisdom—Americans generally hold durable, coherent, and sensible opinions about foreign policy. Nonetheless, their opinions often stand in opposition to those of policymakers, usually because of different interests and values, rather than superior wisdom among the elite. The Foreign Policy Disconnect argues that these gaps between leaders and the public are harmful, and that by using public opinion as a guideline policymakers could craft a more effective, sustainable, and democratic foreign policy. 

Page and Bouton support this argument by painting a uniquely comprehensive portrait of the military, diplomatic, and economic foreign policies Americans favor. They show, for example, that protecting American jobs is just as important to the public as security from attack, a goal the current administration seems to pursue single-mindedly. And contrary to some officials’ unilateral tendencies, the public consistently and overwhelmingly favors cooperative multilateral policy and participation in international treaties. Moreover, Americans’ foreign policy opinions are seldom divided along the usual lines: majorities of virtually all social, ideological, and partisan groups seek a policy that pursues the goals of security and justice through cooperative means. Written in a clear and engaging style, The Foreign Policy Disconnect calls, in an original voice, for a more democratic approach to creating such a policy.


“Experts are often skeptical of public views on foreign policy, but this fascinating book challenges that conventional wisdom. Page and Bouton show that the experts are wrong and American collective public opinion on foreign policy is generally coherent, consistent, and sensible. Anyone who wants to understand American foreign policy should read this book.”

Joseph S. Nye Jr., Harvard University and author of Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics

“This work will become a classic. Certainly no specialist on public opinion and foreign policy could afford to overlook it. Beyond that, it should be required reading for anyone who cares about American foreign policy, especially those who may be somewhat disturbed by recent trends toward unilateralism.”<Ole Holsti, Duke University>

Ole Holsti, Duke University

“In its scope and detail, its array of levels of analysis, and above all, its engagement with politics itself, this study of public opinion has no equal.”

Paul Sniderman, Stanford University

"How can a U.S. president sustain a deeply unpopular foreign policy, seemingly uninfluenced by electoral setbacks or popular disapproval? Should the president be more responsive to public preferences? In [this] important and ambitious new book, Benjamin Page and Marshall Bouton bring to bear an impressive array of survey data in order to answer these and other questions central to the study of public opinion and U.S. foreign policy."

Matthew Baum | Perspectives on Politics

Table of Contents

Introduction: What Sort of Foreign Policy?
1          Taking Public Opinion Seriously
2          The Goals of Security and Justice
3          Friends and Foes in the World
4          Military Strength and the Use of Force
5          Political Cooperation
6          Economic Well-Being and Economic Justice
7          A Disconnect between Policy Makers and the Public?
8          Conclusion: Foreign Policy and Democracy
Appendix. How Goals Cluster


American Political Science Association: Gladys M. Kammerer Award

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